City looks to win budget award for third time

City of Rochelle staff recently submitted their application to the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) in an attempt to win the organization’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the third time.

‘It shows that we really are transparent’

ROCHELLE — City of Rochelle staff recently submitted their application to the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) in an attempt to win the organization’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the third time. 

The city received the award in 2020 and 2021. It applied for the first time in 2020. City Finance Director Chris Cardott said May 15 that there's 1,297 municipalities in Illinois and 87 of them have won the award. Only 6.7 percent of the communities that have applied have received it.

“I think it's fantastic to have been recognized,” City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh said. “Because it shows that we really are transparent. I'm very happy because we have a very dedicated staff that spends so much time putting it together.” 

It takes about six months to get a response after submitting the budget award application. The process involves more than just the budget itself and expands to commentary, pictures, goals and information about the community. Cardott said instead of just numbers, the budget award application gives the reader a bigger picture and provides more transparency about the city.

The application is graded by three different reviewers over 14 required points and 27 points altogether. Each point is graded as proficient or above and comments are provided so the city knows what to improve on in the next year.

“It just gives us something to think about and reflect on when we're doing our budget,” Cardott said. “Instead of just looking at, 'Well last year we budgeted $100, so we should probably up that by three percent.' We actually look into why things change and what the trends are. It gives us a better idea of what we're doing and where we're going for future planning."

The award application is put together mostly by Cardott and Industrial Development Manager Peggy Friday. During the first year the city applied, Fiegenschuh said Friday spent about six months altogether working to pull information together from various departments before sending it in.

The city has around a $90 million budget. Each year it starts a new budget on Jan 1. City staff starts work on the next year’s budget in July to make sure it’s balanced and resources are allocated in the best way possible, Fiegenschuh said. 

The budget preparation process starts with department heads reviewing their past and what they project for the next year and they do a department-specific budget that is reviewed by Cardott and Fiegenschuh and meetings with department heads are held. 

When the entire budget is put together, a committee of the whole meeting is held with the city council, which reviews it as well. A capital improvement plan also goes along with the budget, which projects out 20 years of expenditures showing priorities and funding sources. Approval by the mayor and council comes in December. After that, work starts on the budget award application. 

“Peggy and I work behind the scenes,” Cardott said. “I verify that all the information in our software is correct and that the graphs are correct and it shows what we want to show. She pulls together pictures and Jeff has a 15-page summary we put in there as well. We look through what's coming to council in the future as far as our goals and add that in. It's a lot of work that people don't know about."

Fiegenschuh said the budget is the most important policy document that the mayor and city council approve, due to the fact that nothing can be done without resources of revenue. When using taxpayer money, the city needs to be “very cognisant” of that, and that doesn’t end after the budget is approved, the city manager said.

Revenue must first come in before it can be spent, and every two weeks Fiegenschuh approves a list of bills before it goes to council to be approved. 

“Even though they approved the budget, on the back end they have to approve every expenditure before they make it,” Fiegenschuh said. “So there's a lot of checks and balances. We're always working on the budget. We review it every two weeks even after it's approved and six months later we start working on the new one."

The GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award won last year is available on the city’s site.

“It really does show we're a transparent community, and any question you have on our organization, other organizations we help fund, all of the projects we're doing and all of the goals the mayor and council have set for the community,” Fiegenschuh said. “It's all right there for people to read. It really shows we have nothing to hide. If there's anything you want to know about our organization, it's in that budget award.”